"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

George Washington's Masonic Apron at Mount Vernon This Week


(This post was updated Friday, 2/22/19 at 2:15AM. After posting the original story, I went back and looked up more about the history of this apron and the controversies over it.)

Since 2011, the brethren of Mt. Nebo Lodge 91 in Shepherdstown, West Virginia have graciously permitted their 234-year old George Washington Masonic apron to be displayed to the general public during President's Week each February at Washington's Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia.

Young George Washington was initiated, passed and raised as a Freemason at the Lodge of Fredericksburg, Virginia between 1752-53. According to the story provided by the lodge, after the end of the American Revolutionary War, the Marquis de Lafayette allegedly presented his friend Washington this French-made silk Masonic apron while visiting Mount Vernon in 1784. The hand-embroidered apron features a square and compass, the crossed flags of France and the new United States, a memento mori, sprigs of acacia, and a tessellated cable-tow tied with three knots, referred to by French Masons as la houpe dentelee, which represents the mystic tie that binds all Masons in brotherhood.


(American Masons who visit lodges overseas will see this knotted rope symbolism tied with 'love knots' or 'infinity knots' commonly stretched all around lodge rooms, and it is strongly allied with the 'Chain of Union.' Brother Steve Burkle has written an excellent paper on this symbol and its relationship with the 'indented tessel' referred to in Preston-Webb ritual working. See it HERE.)

After Martha Washington’s death in 1802, this apron is believed to have been purchased for six dollars from her estate by Thomas Hammond, husband of George Washington’s niece, Mildred Washington. It was given to the Mt. Nebo Lodge in West Virginia prior to Hammond’s death in 1820.

The apron may be seen on display this week (February 15 - 24, 2019) at Mount Vernon's Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center. Admission to the Museum is included with general admission to the estate.


The Watson-Cassoul Apron,
owned by Alexandria-Washington Lodge 22
This Saturday, February 23rd, the brethren of Mt. Nebo Lodge will hold a wreath-laying ceremony at Mount Vernon. The ceremony will begin at 1:30PM and will feature a prayer from their Masonic funeral service.


Of course, as with other relics alleged to have belonged to the nation's first President and most famous Freemason, the Mt. Nebo apron is not without its skeptics. It is remarkably similar to the the 'Watson-Cassoul Apron' that was presented to George Washington in 1782 by Elkanah Watson of Plymouth, Massachusetts and Monsieur Cassoul of Nantes, France.

Washington chose to wear the Watson-Cassoul Apron when he famously laid the cornerstone of the United States Capitol building in 1793. 
That famous apron is owned by Virginia's Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, and the Mt. Nebo apron looks to be almost identical in design, although of slightly rougher quality and different details (the skull and bone instead of the 'All Seeing Eye' within the triangle at the center, and the acacia instead of the radiant beams, primarily). It is possible that Mt. Nebo's is a copy or variation of the Watson-Cassoul Apron, or perhaps it was a prior prototype.

Lafayette Apron, owned by
the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania
A third Washington apron (and the best-known one) is known as the 'Lafayette Apron,' which was presented in 1784 by the Marquis de Lafayette, and is now in the Museum of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Its design is quite different from the other two. The Lafayette Apron is said to have been sewn by the hands of Madame Lafayette herself, and so it carries a more romantic legendary status. Masons often mistake this apron for the one Washington wore at the Capitol cornerstone ceremony. And the Mt. Nebo story of their apron seems to combine the histories of the other two aprons. Nevertheless, it is possible that Lafayette did in fact present two aprons to his famous Masonic brother.

That said, the curators at Mount Vernon are obviously convinced enough by Mt. Nebo's provenance to confidently display it as authentic. And there's no reason to question that Washington really did have all three aprons presented to him in the early 1780s by his Brother Masons.

See the original story I posted in 2011 about the Mt. Nebo apron's first exhibition at Mt. Vernon: "Lost" Washington's Lafayette Apron To be Displayed at Mt. Vernon

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Prince Hall North Carolina GM Takes Steps To Calm Diplomatic Amity Issues

It's a shame American history isn't properly taught in schools anymore. In Mrs. Adams' fifth grade class grade I first heard Thomas Jefferson's famous pronouncement; "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none."


GM Daniel L. DT Thompson
At the beginning of February, the Grand Lodge F&AM of Utah suspended recognition of the MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina in protest over a number of lodges established in Africa and France over the years that encroached on established Masonic jurisdictions (see previous story HERE). The announcement was undoubtedly something of an unpleasant welcome to the new job for North Carolina's Prince Hall Grand Master Daniel L. 'DT' Thompson, who had just been installed in late December. His predecessor, Milton F. 'Toby' Fitch, had served as Grand Master for fifteen years (long grand master terms are not that unusual in some Prince Hall jurisdictions). During his tenure between 2005-2018, Fitch had issued charters for lodges that invaded longstanding Masonic jurisdictions with their own established grand lodges in Cameroon, Benin, and Congo, and even a handful of French lodges, announcing a District Grand Lodge of France for North Carolina on his way out the door. 

As a result, the MWPHGL of North Carolina has incurred the fraternal grand wrath of France, Benin, Cameroon, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, and by extension now, Utah. So far. I'm sure MW Thompson was hoping for a little more time to hang his own family photos on the wall and re-key all of the office locks before getting hit with this mess. I suspect there's probably some grand shouting going on about all of this at the annual Conference of Grand Masters of Masons of North America continuing this week in Rapid City, South Dakota. And unquestionably more to come at the analogous Prince Hall Conference of Grand Masters in the Bahamas in May. (How is it that the mainstream guys meet in freezing cold February in snow belt cities, whereas the Prince Hall guys go the Bahamas this year? But I digress.)

It seems that GM Thompson is taking nearly immediate steps to try to extricate North Carolina's PHA Masons from the international imbroglio that Fitch left behind for them. On February 12th, Thompson issued a letter revoking the charter of Nicholas Blaise Adjibi Lodge 856 in Benin. The next day on February 13th, Thompson circulated an email announcing the suspension of the charters of Heart of Africa Lodge 852, Vasco Da Gama Lodge 853 and Faith Lodge 855 - all in Cameroon. The members of all of these lodges were placed in MWPHGL of NC's Tarheel Holding Lodge until a mutual fraternal recognition mitigation strategy can be satisfactorily worked out. 

(Click images to enlarge)

Letter revoking the charter of Nicholas Blaise Adjibi Lodge 856 in Benin
Email revoking three Cameroon lodge charters

The French situation is a bit stickier to try to work out. In researching my earlier post about this, I discovered references online that showed PGM Fitch and/ or his predecessors may have entered into various agreements with not one, not two, but all three of the major French grand lodges over the years. The Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF) is currently in amity with UGLE, all 61 of the mainstream North American grand lodges, and eight U.S. Prince Hall Affiliated grand lodges (including North Carolina since 2008). As reported previously, the GLNF sent a letter last month objecting to the consecration of the new District Grand Lodge - France by North Carolina that was to take place this month (see below).


But until recently, the MWPHGL of North Carolina webpage had previously listed recognition from the Grand Orient de France (GOF). (Note: unfortunately there is no Internet Archive capture of their fraternal recognition page prior to today, and I neglected snag a screen shot before). The GOF may be the largest grand lodge in France, but it is overwhelmingly considered irregular by the bulk of the Masonic world for regarding a Volume of Sacred Law as optional for opening lodge, accepting atheists as members, admitting women, and openly engaging in and advocating political activities (among other issues). There is no question that the GOF does not adhere to what mainstream Freemasonry regards as the most basic landmark requirements of the fraternity, regardless of its popularity.

Because the GOF is institutionally one of those organizations that's so open minded that they won't even side with themselves in an argument, some Prince Hall grand lodges 30 and 40 years ago sought their recognition when they were being shunned by the majority of the predominantly white Masonic world. But as the mainstream Masons became more accepting of Prince Hall Masonic origin and regularity in the late 1980s and early 90s, that GOF recognition became something of a diplomatic liability. And not every grand secretary in the world has always paid strict attention to the details of international regularity and recognition issues. If it wasn't a typo, that website notation may have been an artifact hanging around in the files of the MWPHGL of NC from long ago that was forgotten. Or not.

And then to put a cherry on the top of this mess, it seems that PGM Fitch had also recently worked with the Grande Loge de France (GLdF) in setting up some of his African lodges, including establishing up a brand new new PHA grand lodge in Congo in 2015. The GLdF is the odd man out in French Masonry. It is the second largest grand lodge in France, perfectly regular in origin and practice, just not widely recognized outside of the country. The mainstream world has favored the UGLE-backed GLNF for more than 60 years. 

As of today, the MWPHGL of NC webpage now lists the Grande Loge de France as the one they currently recognize in France, which clearly has casual observers scratching their collective noggins. It certainly conflicts with the GLNF's record keeping. 

However, given the vicissitudes of web page designers and the minefield of French Masonic bodies (on top of the three large ones, there are at least a dozen more grand lodges in France at work currently – lock nine French Masons in a room and you'll wind up with three new grand lodges), I'm willing to believe someone may simply have gotten confused at the keyboard, especially in light of the letter from GLNF outlining their recognition status from 2008. (Which is why web pages need to be finely proofread by knowledgable brethren whenever changes get made, instead of just saying "Let Poindexter do that Internet stuff. He's real good at it...")

The upshot of all of this is that PGM Fitch had danced with at least two, and maybe all three, of the main grand lodges in France during his tenure, along with sticking his own flag in the ground and chartering new PH lodges in that country. All of this on top of the messes in Africa. Now, MW Thompson is stuck with trying extricate himself from those entangling alliances, which he seems to be doing so with admirable speed. His biography shows a background in military intelligence and law enforcement, and with a Masters degree in Homeland Security. I suspect he's just the guy for the job.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Piers A. Vaughan Announced As 2019 Blue Friar


The Society of Blue Friars was founded in 1932 for the express purpose of recognizing outstanding Masonic authors. Authors like Arthur E. Waite, Harold V.B. Voorhis, Arturo de Hoyos, Thomas Jackson, Mark Tabbert, Robert G. Davis, Alton Roundtree, Michael R. Poll and Josef Wäges are just a few prior Blue Friar honorees. They even inducted this Dummy as Friar No. 101 back in 2012. Since 2004, the Grand Abbot of the Society has been Dr. S.Brent Morris, Masonic author, and editor of the Scottish Rite Journal and the Scottish Rite Research Society's annual Heredom collection.

Breaking with prior, longstanding tradition of announcing the Blue Friar at their annual meeting during Masonic Week, the Grand Abbott has announced the 2019 Blue Friar ahead of time as Piers A. Vaughan.


Worshipful Brother Piers Vaughan has one of the most diverse and fascinating backgrounds for the study and understanding (and explanation) of Masonic, appendant, and other esoteric orders you will ever encounter. Originally, he is from England, and he belongs to lodges in England, Canada, and the U.S. Throughout his life he has lived in several European countries, Canada, and now resides in New York. He has a Master's degree in Divinity and another in Experimental Psychology; experience in both the Anglican and Catholic denominations and traditions; an MBA in Business Studies; a teaching diploma in Music; and much, much more. 

Piers has made extensive studies in history, alchemy, language (he has translated many texts from French to English), symbolism, cultures—truly what anyone would acknowledge to be a "Renaissance Man." Appropriately, one of his most recent books is 2017's outstanding Renaissance Man & Mason.

He is also is the proprietor of Rose Circle Publications that is a source of other fascinating books along similar explorations of esoteric thought that mirror his eclectic mind and interests. 



Upon being named a new Friar, each inductee is expected to present a short paper at the Masonic Week gathering. Piers' topic will be "Did St. Martin Influence the RER Rituals?" 

If you are at Masonic Week on Friday February 22, 2019 be sure to stop in for 10:30 AM-11:45 AM - All are welcome to attend.

For info on Masonic Week go to: Masonic Week 2019

Saturday, February 02, 2019

GL of Utah Suspends Recognition of Prince Hall North Carolina

NOTE:  THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED FEBRUARY 5, 2019 

Oh, the troubles that arise when grand lodges dabble in foreign lands. 

The Grand Lodge F&AM of Utah has voted at its annual communication this past week to suspend recognition of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina over its chartering of lodges in foreign countries. 

(NOTE: My original headline was slightly misleading, as recognition was suspended by Utah, not completely withdrawn, as I originally stated.)

Utah recognized the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in North Carolina back in 2009, and in fact, extended recognition before it was even requested. The current issue is one of irregular activity that North Carolina's new Grand Master has undertaken in Africa and France.

The current website of the MWPHGLofNC lists among its chartered lodges: My Brother’s Keeper Lodge #847 in Lille, France; , Lafayette Lodge #851 in Paris; Heart Of Africa Lodge #852 in the Republic of Cameroon, Africa; Nelson Mandela Lodge #854 in Paris; and The Faith Lodge #855, also in Cameroon. 

This all came up at the Conference of Grand Masters of North America in Indianapolis last year in the 2018 meeting of the Commission on Foreign Recognition. They were informed that the sovereign jurisdictions of the Grand Lodges of the Congo, Cameroon, and Ivory Coast had been invaded by the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina. It's gone a bit further now.


According to a report given in Utah by Past Grand Master Glenn Cook:
On December 28, 2018, the new Grand Master of Prince Hall North Carolina announced intent to consecrate the “Grand Lodge Prince Hall – France” and to “inaugurate the temple of Prince Hall Benin’s Lodge.” This announcement has met with resistance from the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free & Accepted Masons, Republic of Liberia, describing the conduct of Prince Hall North Carolina as unmasonic. Not surprisingly, the Grand Lodge of Benin has described the behavior as irregular. The Grande Loge National Francaise has been equally strenuous in their objection to Prince Hall North Carolina forming a grand lodge in their territory without consent.
The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina has clearly violated the jurisdiction of sovereign grand lodges, and is no longer practicing regular Freemasonry. It is therefore the recommendation of your Committee that this Grand Lodge suspend recognition of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina until they remedy their illegal actions.
Indeed, on the MWPHGLNC website, there is a 'District France' web page with little information on it HERE.




If the issues are not resolved, there will be further brouhaha over it in the coming year. The Grande Loge Nationale Française will present more objections at the COGMMNA later this month, and at the very least, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Liberia will certainly be bringing it before the Prince Hall Conference of Grand Masters in May.

I have written to Grand Master Daniel L. Thompson for some sort of statement or clarification that might shed some light on this matter, and will post it when or if he chooses to respond. 

Interestingly, their grand lodge website quotes John Donne, saying "No man is an island entire unto itself..."  Neither is a grand lodge when it comes to territorial claims. Why any American grand lodge or grand master would dip their toe into French Masonic territory,  much less the patchwork quilt of competing territorial claims throughout the various African nations already carved up by various foreign Masonic bodies or that have their own grand lodges, escapes my comprehension. It would just be a shame if the Prince Hall brethren of North Carolina lost amity with more U.S. grand lodges over some quixotic foreign experiment. 

Lest anyone attempt to claim Utah is acting out of some other ulterior motives concerning Prince Hall Freemasons, bear in mind that they recently achieved amity with the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Texas, and just extended an invitation for recognition with the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in the District of Columbia.  No, this is about regular Masonic conduct that is expected of all Masonic bodies that are in amity with each other and seek to remain so.

(Supporting documents below. Click to enlarge.)





A question asked elsewhere is whether the GLNF or Liberia (or both, or any others) have withdrawn recognition of the MWPHGLofNC prior to Utah taking this action, which is a very fair question. I myself wonder if Utah jumped the shark by taking this action before the two aggrieved grand lodges involved did so. If so, this seems to be an unduly rash action on Utah's part, based on essentially two letters that were presented without any subsequent answers or statements by the PHGL of North Carolina or their Grand Master. Undoubtedly, there will be more information forthcoming.






UPDATED FEBRUARY 3, 2019, 6:31PM:

More documentation has been forwarded to me, and can be seen below. Click images to enlarge.

• Invitation to upcoming consecration ceremony of a new "Prince Hall Grand Lodge - France"  by Grand Master Thompson of the MWPHGL of North Carolina to be held in Paris, set for February 16, 2019:




Former Grand Master of MWPHGLofNC
Toby Fitch (left), declaring Samuel D.
Badinga as the new GM of the Prince Hall
Grand Lodge of Congo (est. 2015).

• An expelled Freemason named Samuel Badinga (expelled in 2017 by the Nationale Grand Loge du Congo) appeared in North Carolina in early summer 2018, and requested authority from the MWPHGL of North Carolina to charter a new lodge in the West African nation of Benin. Apparently, GM Thompson's predecessor, PGM Toby Fitch, was unaware of Badinga's expelled status, and granted the charter. 

Badinga shows up on Facebook pages in July 2018 as the Grand Master of a recently established (2015) 'Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Congo,' which was consecrated by none other than the immediate Past Grand Master of the MWPHGL of North Carolina, Toby Fitch. 

It was PGM Fitch who first embarked on these African expansion plans, and GM Thompson appears to simply be following his lead. (Thompson was elected GM in December 2018.)

The Grand Lodge of Benin's (Grande Loge du Benin) Grand Master Benoît A. K. Kouassi subsequently expressed his strong objections in the following letter to Thompson last month:






Thursday, January 17, 2019

2019 UCLA International Conference on Freemasonry 3/2


Each year, UCLA hosts an academic conference about Freemasonry, centered around a general theme for the program, and chaired by Dr. Margaret C. Jacob (author of Living the Enlightenment). This conference has been the result of a longstanding sponsorship by the California Masonic Foundation and the Grand Lodge of California. The Program's chair is Dr. Susan Mitchell Somers of Saint Vincent College in Pennsylvania, and General Editor of the Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism. 

The 8th International Conference on Freemasonry at UCLA will be held this year on On March 2, 2019.  The topic is 'Diversity and Exclusivity in 18th Century Freemasonry' and explores how Masons in the 1700s forged connections with those from outside their own cultural traditions. 

This year's presentations will include:
•“A Safe Haven for a Scandalous Man? The Strange Career of Mathieu-Noël Rioust, (ex-) Priest, (ex-) Revolutionary, (ex-) Journalist and (ex-) Freemason.” Jeffrey Tyssens, Ph.D., shares the story of a French journalist whose life trajectory wound a brilliant, scandalous, and volatile path through the French Revolution, Catholic priesthood, Freemasonry, and international politics.

•“Freemasonry, Tolerance, and Images of Inquisition Persecutions: Crossing the Protestant-Catholic Divide.” Reva Wolf, Ph.D., reveals how Masonic artwork raised awareness of the horrors of the Catholic Church’s Inquisition, leading to an interdenominational condemnation of its discriminatory campaign.

•“The Stone That the Builders Refused: How Jews Came to Lead Freemasonry in Rhode Island.”Samuel Biagetti, Ph.D. explains how a small congregation of Jewish Masons played a pivotal social role in colonial Rhode Island, cultivating reunification of their diverse community following the tumultuous American Revolution.

•“Critical Analysis of the Start and Origin of African Lodge No. 1” Bro. John L. Hairston Bey reveals deep insight into the creation of Prince Hall Freemasonry, showing how its founders intended to be part of “mainstream” Freemasonry rather than forming a parallel fraternity.

The conference will be held March 2, 2019 from 8:30AM - 5:30PM at:

University of California, Los Angeles
1200 De Neve Drive
Covell Commons, Grand Horizon Ballroom

Cost is $30 for the Conference, plus an optional $20 for a buffet lunch.

Daylong parking is available for $12. The parking lot is located beneath the building where the conference will take place. The conference location is not easily accessible to off-campus parking. Driving or carpooling is strongly recommended.

For reservations (required) and more information, see the Eventbrite page HERE.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

2019 Mid-Atlantic Esotericon in Virginia: 6/15


This summer, Virginia Freemasons will be hosting the inaugural 2019 Mid-Atlantic Esotericon on Saturday, June 15th, 2019, from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm at Manasseh Lodge No. 182, A.F. & A.M, in Manassas, Virginia. The preliminary lineup includes a full schedule of Masonic esoterica, vendors, and presentations from the following speakers;
• Jon Ruark 
• Frater O
• RJ Johnson
• Greg Kaminsky
• PD Newman
• Piers Vaughn
• Jamie Lamb
• Donald McAndrews

Manasseh Lodge No. 182 is located at 9810 Cockrell Road in historic Manassas, Virginia. There will also be a social event the night before, Friday, June 14th at Sinistral Brewing Company in Manassas for those arriving early.



For tickets, visit the Eventbrite reservation page HERE. Organizers are offering early bird pricing at $65.00 per ticket through February 9th.


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Masonic Week in Arlington, VA: 2/21-24


The website for making reservations for the 2019 AMD Masonic Week has been up and running for a while now, and it's just about a month away. This annual event will be held a little later this year than in the past: February 21-24, 2018, once again at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in the Crystal City area of Arlington, Virginia (a mere cocktail glass' throw from Reagan International Airport, across the Potomac from Washington, D.C.). 

Eighteen Masonic appendant bodies, invitational groups, research organizations, and others will be holding their annual meetings, degree conferrals, elections, banquets, speeches, and other assorted sundry activities. There is also always a healthy dose of Masonic product vendors on hand.

The direct link to reserve a room at the Hyatt with the convention rate is HERE.

If you've never been to Masonic Week before, the real benefit of going is that it is the largest concentration of seriously proactive Masons from across the country and around the world you'll find on an annual basis, along with many of the best known Masonic researchers, authors, editors, and other personalities. While the bulk of the groups require existing York Rite membership as a precondition for their own admission (and a few are invitational only), you will still find plenty to keep you more than occupied for these three and a half days. And there is as much to be absorbed in the hallways, at the bar, or in the hospitality rooms as in the meetings themselves. Make new friendships from around the world, and rekindle old ones.

Plus, if you've never been to Washington, D.C. before, this is the perfect excuse to go. I will tell you from experience that there is a 50/50 chance of the weather either bringing three feet of blowing snow, or 70 degree sun-drenched days. Sometimes both. That's just Washington in February. (Pack an extra set of underwear in your carryon bag in case your flights get canceled. Old hands know this.) But add a day to your trip to sightsee, and be sure you visit the Scottish Rite's House of the Temple no later than Thursday, because it is CLOSED Fridays and weekends. Visit the Capitol, the monuments, the Smithsonian, the unique Egyptian-themed Potomac Lodge, and much more. Have drinks and cigars at the Old Ebbitt Grill around the corner from the White House (you'll find Masons there nearly any night that week). Or go the other direction to Alexandria and visit the George Washington National Masonic Memorial, and have dinner at Gadsby's Tavern. There's no shortage of historic sites tied to Masons concentrated in the area.

Historically, Masonic Week was long tied to the scheduling of the annual Conference of Grand Masters (COGMMNA), which was scheduled, in turn, to coincide with George Washington's Birthday. That was back in the days when the Grand Masters met every year in Washington D.C. at this time. Consequently, Masonic Week would happen the weekend before at the venerable Hotel Washington, which sat in the shadow of the White House. But sometime in the early 1990s, that connection got frayed by the Grand Masers taking their annual meetings on the road and cycling around the country. Still, Masonic Week always tried to arrange itself to happen the weekend before, or thereabouts. Weather in D.C., the Super Bowl, and other factors have put pressure on organizers over the years, so this year's event will actually follow the Grand Masters' Conference in Rapid City, South Dakota that happens February 16-20th.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

"Public Servants Wanted: Joiners and Theists Need Not Apply"

Something sinister must be going on here
With some noteworthy exceptions like the Morgan period, membership in long-established fraternal groups really hasn't come under fire in America the way it has in Europe and other countries when it comes to public life. Americans have historically been proud of our voluntary associations and admired for them ever since Alexis de Tocqueville wrote so glowingly about them in the early 1800s. Associations have been vital to the functioning of our democratic society almost from the start - they are, in fact, classrooms where Americans learn the basics of running our republic. But the culture is shifting around us now to a startling degree, and what affects one or two fraternal groups today may become a larger issue for us all in the very near future. Which is why I've been wrestling for two weeks over how to report this story.

In December, a nominee for the U.S. District Court in the District of Nebraska, Brian Buescher of Omaha, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his conformation hearing. In the course of being questioned by the various senators over his past judicial record, Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) specifically called into question Buescher's membership in the Catholic fraternal organization the Knights of Columbus. Specifically citing the KofC and the Catholic Church's official positions on abortion and same-sex marriage, these two senators demanded to know if his membership in this male-only club would prevent him from hearing cases “fairly and impartially.” 

And they wanted his assurance that he would resign his membership if confirmed as a justice of the court.

Think about that for a minute. 

It's not a perfect analogy to Masonic membership for a whole raft of reasons, but it's close enough to ring some alarms for us. Up until just a few years ago, citizens involved in civic life were proud of their voluntary associations (arguably, at times, obsessively so, back when Babbitry was all the rage). Harry Truman often said his greatest honor in life was not being president, but being Past Grand Master of Missouri. As for the Knights of Columbus, John F. Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy and Jeb Bush have all been proud members who weren't shy about their memberships. But now, fraternalism itself seems to be one more item on the chopping block when it comes to scrutinizing the resumés of potential public servants.

The Knights of Columbus, a voluntary men's fraternal group for Catholics, was started in 1885 at the height of the Golden Age of Fraternalism. One of the reasons for their formation was that so many other fraternal groups at that time would not admit Catholics as members (or the Church would not permit parishioners to join them, as with Masonry). Late 19th century America was overwhelmingly Protestant, and Catholicism was considered a religious minority that was paired with a huge influx of Irish and Italian immigration. Like so many other fraternal groups, the KofC patterned itself after Freemasonry's basic structure, with three principal degree ceremonies (along with a fourth that was optional, similar to the Knights Templar of Masonry, complete with their own patriotic drill teams featuring similar uniforms, swords, and plumed chapeaux). In time, they also created an insurance benefit program (like the Woodmen of America), their own women's auxiliary, and youth groups for boys and girls. Today they have over two million members worldwide. And unlike Freemasonry, their membership since the 1960s has only increased, while other older groups like ours have plunged in size. They seem to be doing something right.

The grotesque rise of instantaneous social (or really anti-social) media shines a spotlight on the minutest of subjects these days, and this back and forth exchange between the senators and Buescher is no exception. As soon as the session ended on CSPAN and their written questions were made public, the story went out across the web. Various Cathlolic groups decried it as a return to the anti-Catholic discrimination of the 1920s. Abortion rights and LGBT groups declared Buescher unfit for the bench because of his Catholic faith. Truly horrific (and totally uninformed) knee-jerk commentary spewed forth on news sites and discussion groups, amping up the level of hatred for one point of view or the other, and naturally degenerating into "What if he belonged to the Nazis?! Huh? Huh?!" And when the week was over and the dust finally settled on the story, the average American was once again left with the exasperated feeling that only an escapee from a madhouse should ever bother to take part in public life. Normal men and women with any shred of civic duty left rattling around in their heads should apply only at their peril. But certainly not if they had any sort of openly declared religious conviction of any kind, attended a church or synagogue, or belonged to any private clubs.

I made several starts and stops and retries of this post over the holidays, beginning with the very imperfect feeling that Masons should speak up and show some solidarity with the Knights of Columbus in this, because it could be a Brother Mason getting grilled next week. My feeling when the story first broke was that, if fraternal groups don't stand by each other, we're in danger of reenacting the tragic, old Martin Niemöller poem, "First they came for the socialists... but I was not a socialist." I still feel that way. Quite honestly, single-sex associations like the Freemasons are being not-so quietly assaulted all over the Western world these days, and we are foolish to ignore it (read up on the latest activities attempting to wipe out single-sex clubs, fraternities and 'secret societies' at Harvard University, and the surprising reactions of sororities in response). But the real truth is that, in the current hyper-sensitive atmosphere of today, no one can adequately plan or defend against being blindsided by a concerted effort to seek and destroy a juicy target. Not controversial? No worries — controversies will be provided at the door.

(But then, our own members do it too. I actually read a long exchange on a Masonic forum this week that was excoriating a Brother Mason for daring to appear on a platform behind the duly elected President of the United States this week while wearing a visible square and compasses lapel pin—as though there was something shameful, controversial, or humiliating in that.)

Just as I was taking another stab at the story this morning, Brent Morris passed along an opinion piece from yesterday's Washington Post about the Knights of Columbus written by Kevin Butterfield, who is the director of George Washington’s presidential library at Mount Vernon (and author of the book, The Making of Tocqueville’s America). In his Post article, 'Senators shouldn’t be afraid of the Knights of Columbus,' HERE he gives an excellent thumbnail sketch of the history of voluntary associations like Freemasonry and the rest, the flareups against them that have waxed and waned over the centuries, and why Senators Harris and Hirono really don't need to bark up this dead horse.

In a related vein, a report came out this week by the Pew Research Group concerning the religious beliefs and affiliations of the new members of the House of Representatives for 2019. At any other time in the history of this country, the headline that accompanied it would have brought down the rage, wrath and disgust of the overwhelming majority of the population over its blatant bias and implication. Now, it's just one more screaming bit of clickbait: 'Christians Overrepresented in Congress.' The chart from their survey can be seen below (click to enlarge).


The implication is that rational Americans should be appalled — or something — by all of those religious people in government. It's just gotta be wrong! It's just gotta! Even if you really believe that, the part everyone seems to be looking past is that joiners of clubs and active members of religious congregations are the most likely sort of people, on average, to step up and take part in governing. They volunteer, contribute, show up, take part, vote, and do everything else needed to operate a democratic society far more consistently and dependably than the teeming masses of apathetic spiritual-not-religious-I'm-not-a-joiners that are growing in numbers every day. Of course there are exceptions, but the statistics are what they are. If you want an effective democratic society to be run efficiently, ask the busy and successful people who are already working hard in their clubs, fraternal groups, churches, and companies. They show up, and keep showing up. They keep shoveling coal when the briefly dazzling activists and noisemakers get tired and go home.

Of course the demographics of the new Congress have changed to reflect the huge changes in the country's population, and they were sworn in yesterday. I found it quite interesting that the dais of the House of representatives looked very much like an altar in many Masonic lodges these days, filled with the various books deemed to be sacred by the assembled members, upon which they took their oaths office.

Sacred books prepared for the Congressional oaths of office:
Multiple Bibles, Hebrew Tenach, Islamic Qur'an, Hindu Veda, Buddhist Sutra,
plus two U.S. Constitutions for any atheists or agnostics. 
Front and center were news stories celebrating the swearing in of Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) as "the first bisexual and only religiously unaffiliated member in Congress" (her oath of office was taken on copies of the U.S. and Arizona Constitutions, a practice started when John Quincy Adams swore on a law book instead of a Bible). I have no opinion whatsoever of Rep. Sinema's abilities or zeal for governance, and wish her all the best. But I did find it a bizarre Ying to the Yang of the historical perspective of Judge Buescher's conformation, when it comes to the current crop of Robespierres like Senators Harris and Hirono, and what are and are not not considered disqualifying traits in public service these days. 

I know I'm crossing into political (or maybe 'Get Off My Lawn') territory here, but the Masons of the Enlightenment who transformed Freemasonry into a speculative order for instructing men in a code of morals would be blowing their collective stacks right now. On the one hand, it is apparently deemed vitally important (or at least fashionable) that a person's private sexual proclivities are publicly bannered and declared important qualifications for governing the country, while not fessing up to having any sort of organized moral code beyond the written (and always changeable) civil law. On the other hand, the moral and religious beliefs of a man headed for the judicial bench that are held by what is still a vast majority of the country are deemed discriminatory, dangerous, probably ignorant, and definitely unsuitable by a noisy contingent of elected officials. It's no longer bombast to ask how much longer it will be before anyone who espouses any religious faith — Christian, Jew, and yes, eventually even Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu in due time — will be written off as either sinister, an ignoramus, or both, for daring to believe in the very first Charge of all Freemasonry, as set down in Anderson's Constitutions:
"A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charg’d in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish’d; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must else have remain’d at a perpetual Distance."
And that's why it's important for us to stick up for the Knights of Columbus and never forget Martin Niemöller's poem when it comes to observing the treatment of religious and fraternal groups on the public stage.

First they came for the Knights of Columbus...

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Dr. William Moore's 2018 Sandkey Lecture Now Online



The Grand Lodge of AF&AM of Canada in the Province of Ontario has a unique relationship with the part of the academic world that studies our fraternity. The annual Dr. Charles A. Sankey Lecture in Masonic Studies at Brock University, St. Catharines is presented each year through a unique partnership with the Grand Lodge. Since 2010, the Sankey Lecture has presented significant academic scholars who specialize in Freemasonry or fraternalism, and in recent years, these have been recorded and made available online HERE.


William D. Moore
The 2018 Sankey Lecture was presented by Dr. William D. Moore on Sunday September 9, 2018, and was entitled Catechism, Spectacle, Burlesque: American Fraternal Ritual Performance, 1733-1933. The complete lecture has just been made available online HERE.


Dr. Moore is the Director of the American and New England Studies Program, and Associate Professor of American Material Culture, Department of History of Art and Architecture at Boston University in Massachusetts. Professor Moore teaches courses on American material culture and vernacular landscapes. He is the author of the excellent book, Masonic Temples: Freemasonry, Ritual Architecture, and Masculine Archetypes (2006). He also co-edited (with Mark Tabbert) the outstanding collection of indispensable essays, Secret Societies in America: Foundational Studies of Fraternalism (2011). Any library about fraternalism needs copies of both.

Dr. Charles Sankey, for whom the lecture series is named, served as Chancellor of Brock University from 1969 to 1974. A renowned Masonic scholar, he was active in all the concordant bodies of Masonry including the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite, the Royal Order of Scotland, and Royal Arch Masons. His extensive collection of rare Masonic books and papers is in the Special Collections of the James Gibson Library at Brock, providing a rich resource for research scholars and students — the Masonic collection in the James A. Gibson Library, and the online collection of Proceedings of Grand Lodge from 1855 to 2010.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

The Boys


There's a wonderful poem written by Oliver Wendall Holmes Sr. (not the Supreme Court Justice) from back at the beginning of the Golden Age of Fraternalism, when every American man would join a whole clot of fraternal groups. It was also an age when every educated man and woman considered themselves to be poets, and went on to attempt to prove it, with varying levels of successes and failures. Kentucky Past Grand Master Rob Morris, for instance, became known as American Freemasonry's poet laureate, not necessarily because his poems were all outstanding. but because he wrote a truckload of them.

This one in particular was penned by Oliver W. Holmes in 1859 for the 30th reunion of his Harvard University graduating class of 1829. If ever you encounter a critic of our fraternity who demands to know why we don't openly welcome women into our lodges as fellow Masons, explain that, with all of the various demands for 'safe spaces' going around these days, men demand and are entitled to such safe havens, too, thank you very much. With neither reproach nor apology.

Then have them read Holmes' poem:

The Boys

HAS there any old fellow got mixed with the boys?
If there has, take him out, without making a noise.
Hang the Almanac's cheat and the Catalogue's spite!
Old Time is a liar! We're twenty to-night!

We're twenty! We're twenty! Who says we are more?
He's tipsy,-- young jackanapes!-- show him the door!
"Gray temples at twenty?"-- Yes ! white if we please;
Where the snow-flakes fall thickest there's nothing can freeze!

Was it snowing I spoke of? Excuse the mistake!
Look close,-- you will see not a sign of a flake!
We want some new garlands for those we have shed,--
And these are white roses in place of the red.

We've a trick, we young fellows, you may have been told,
Of talking (in public) as if we were old:--
That boy we call "Doctor," and this we call "Judge;"
It's a neat little fiction,-- of course it's all fudge.

That fellow's the "Speaker,"-- the one on the right;
"Mr. Mayor," my young one, how are you to-night?
That's our "Member of Congress," we say when we chaff;
There's the "Reverend" What's his name?-- don't make me laugh.

That boy with the grave mathematical look
Made believe he had written a wonderful book,
And the ROYAL SOCIETY thought it was true!
So they chose him right in; a good joke it was, too!

There's a boy, we pretend, with a three-decker brain,
That could harness a team with a logical chain;
When he spoke for our manhood in syllabled fire,
We called him "The Justice," but now he's "The Squire."

And there's a nice youngster of excellent pith,--
Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith;
But he shouted a song for the brave and the free,
Just read on his medal, "My country," "of thee!"

You hear that boy laughing?-- You think he's all fun;
But the angels laugh, too, at the good he has done;
The children laugh loud as they troop to his call,
And the poor man that knows him laughs loudest of all!

Yes, we're boys, --always playing with tongue or with pen,--
And I sometimes have asked,-- Shall we ever be men?
Shall we always be youthful, and laughing, and gay,
Till the last dear companion drops smiling away?

Then here's to our boyhood, its gold and its gray!
The stars of its winter, the dews of its May!
And when we have done with our life-lasting toys,
Dear Father, take care of thy children, THE BOYS!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Rock Band Foreigner Teams Up With Shriners Hospitals



The band Foreigner which formed back in 1976 has been a longstanding contributor to supporting and promoting Shriners Hospitals. Led by guitarist Mick Jones and singer Kelly Hansen, Foreigner is one of the top-selling bands of all time, selling more than 80 million recordings since their founding. They have donated money for the Shrine's pediatric hospitals ever since 2008, and have raised $300,000 for them from CD sales at their shows. 

Now for 2019, Foreigner has teamed up with the Shrine by creating a new recording and video of their biggest hit song, 1984's I Want To Know What Love Is, featuring a children's choir of young patients from the hospitals singing portions of the lyrics.
From the 96.1 The Rocket website,
Jones says the lyrics apply to the resilience and happiness the medical network brings to its patients. "Over time, it kinda went into a more universal feeling, and a lot of people took it as that, and that's fine with me. It's a song of hope and a song of joy and happiness and inspiration." 
Hansen adds, "Being involved in this is all really good, but getting to share it with the kids is really the best part for me..."
The song's re-release and the video is available on ITunes and GooglePlay as of January 1st (watch it via the link above), but a news story and preview can be seen on the WFTS-TV Tampa Action News website HERE.


A longer excerpt of the video an be seen on the Shriners Facebook page HERE.

And before anyone asks, I have no idea if Jones, Hansen, or any of the band's other members belong to the Masonic fraternity.

While Freemasons are fully aware of the connection, the vast majority of the public don't realize that all Shiners are, in fact, Masons. Shriners International is an appendant body of Freemasonry that requires its members to belong to the Masonic fraternity before joining their well-known red fez-wearing organization. It is the best-known public face of Masonic charitable giving and philanthropy operating twenty-two pediatric hospitals that provide specialty orthopedic and burn care at no cost to patients and their families.

For more information about the Shriners, their hospitals, and membership, see their website HERE.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas


It's a slow week for Masonic news, so I thought I'd resurrect a Christmas holiday diversion from a few years back. Back between 2005 and 2008, I was asked to contribute to my brother-in-law's monthly Texas organic gardening magazine, Living Natural First. As I protested at the time,  I didn't know the first thing about organic gardening, which was just fine with him. He wanted some lighter relief from the rest of the magazine's monthly dose of compost, leaf mold remedies, and the gardener's astrology chart. The result was an ongoing column entitled Pilgrim's Progress: Rustic Tales of an Organic Greenhorn. The Pilgrim columns generally followed the fictional story of a couple who move to the country from the city – he was an urban creature who couldn't tell which end of a hammer to use to properly twist a screw into a wall, while she was a child of the 60s, completely enthralled with living her utopian vision of an environmentally healthy lifestyle on pennies a month. Together they fought the battle of garden slugs, home improvement, industrial tool rentals and marauding rodents.

After two years or so, I had tried to back out of the column, which apparently resulted in an insurrection from a group of Baptist church ladies in Wichita Falls who gathered every month specifically to read the monthly Pilgrim story aloud to each other. They telephoned Bob to say that if I didn't come up with a Christmas story that year, my eternal soul was at risk of being negatively testified against at Peter's Gate by these otherwise kind and compassionate ladies. The result of their threats is presented below, in lieu of any actual Masonic items.

A very Merry Christmas to all.



A Pilgrim Christmas Tree


My father is not a cheapskate. Let’s just get that clear right up front, before my significant helpmate shouts, “He is too!” from the next room. My father is a child of the Great Depression, when that hearty stock of gritty survivalists baked their own bread made from dirt they dug from the back yard, walked 28 miles to school every day (uphill, both ways), and gave birth to their children in mangers because there was no room in the inn. Er, wait … I think I’m mixing up my stories here.

My father inculcated in the child that sprung from his parsimonious loins a healthy admiration for frugality, placed in a delicate cosmic balance with the sentimental, resulting in what I like to think of as a proper state of mind when it comes to arguments over spending too much money at Christmastime. Over the years, I have neatly ducked the undoubtedly environmentally sound protestations of my bride who has suggested the purchase of a prefabricated Christmas tree every holiday season since we were first tethered together in connubial bliss. The first hints usually begin long about August.

“Hey look,” she’ll hey from a corner of the living room, “I’m still picking up pine needles from last year.” I regard this as the gift that keeps on giving the whole year through, a gentle reminder of the Christmas spirit, even in the scorching, humid heat of the summer doldrums.

“Uh-huh,” she’ll respond. “I remember now. The vacuum cleaner clogged and tore a belt on all those needles when I was cleaning up after your tree last year.” I generally respond to this assault on my coniferous preferences by blurting out a bar of O’ Tannenbaum. I prefer the German lyrics. It gives my retort the proper sense of “I’m not buying a plastic tree, and this is final,” in a way that only the guttural consonants of the German language can really communicate:

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,
Dein Kleid will mich was lehren:
Die Hoffnung und Beständigkeit
Gibt Mut und Kraft zu jeder Zeit!


It’s the sort of heartwarming lyric I can imagine Erwin Rommel barking at his wife when she suggested an artificial tree to him, as he was headed out the door to Libya to go command the Afrika Korps.

Long about September, she’ll take the opportunity to wander past my desk and casually make an offhand remark about how the average acre of uncut pines and firs generates enough oxygen every day to keep 18 people breathing, or that 21 million trees were mercilessly hacked down in the prime of life last year, and that if every American man was as shamelessly pigheaded about Christmas trees as me, 446,996 acres of trees would be whacked down. At 18 people’s daily oxygen, per acre, I’d be personally responsible for suffocating 8,045,928 of my fellow citizens. To which I reply, if that includes the lady who cut in line in front of me at the grocery with 215 items in the ‘12 or Less’ lane, armed with a suitcase filled with expired coupons, that would be okay by me.

Come November, there’s no avoiding the artificial tree display at the Hardware Hut, where all of these wire and plastic mockeries of the yuletide season stand, like some arboreal firing squad. “A snap to put up in less than five minutes!” they coo. “No mess, no fuss!” they taunt. “Look! I’m even pre-lit!” teases the latest phony fir, as its fake fronds beckon the holiday shopper, appealing to his weakening resolve with a can of evergreen-scented air freshener, included at no extra charge. Like some scantily-clad temptress, whispering in his ear, they display their tainted wares and attempt to seduce him. “Take me to your house, honey. I look like the real thing. No one will ever know. I’ll even make it easy on you when you’re tired of me after New Year’s Eve. You can pack me up when you’ve finished with me, and put me away, and not even think of me till next year. Because I’ll wait for you, baby.”

No dice. I’m not buying. Which brings me back to the recombinant cheapskate gene I allegedly inherited from my father. Because, you see, not only am I not buying an artificial tree made by Chinese prisoners in a “re-indoctrination” camp, I’m not buying a real one either. No $200 tree in a box for me, but also no pre-cut, dried out, sap-oozing, needle-dropping, $99 refugee from a Michigan tree farm for me, either.

My parents divorced early in my life and have been remarried several times between them, which means my extremely complex family relations resemble more of a merger than a standard familial bond. It’s more like the close, personal relationships one develops with fellow passengers during a bus plunge. So the strange mélange of holiday traditions that have been passed, re-passed, co-mingled and co-opted by the various offspring that make up my siblings, half-siblings and step-siblings have allowed all of us to cherrypick the ones we like best and force them upon our own families. And the one that I consider sacrosanct is the annual chopping down of a free-range Christmas tree – the word “free” being the operative term.

My father has never in his 87 years of life paid for a Christmas tree, and he taught me all of the tricks of the trade. Overwhelmingly, his preferred manner of tree shopping involved long afternoon drives in the country searching for just the right combination of isolated location and questionable property ownership, returning as dusk fell to quickly chop down his prize. Over the years, we had a wild variety of trees – the standard pines, firs and spruces, and the not-so-standard hemlocks, cedars, cypresses, and arborvitaes. Some were downright dangerous to the touch, with the same sort of prickly nature as a cactus plant, which made the hanging of lights and ornaments a hazardous occupation. And true, there was the occasional bird or rodent that rode into the living room, buried deep within the tree’s hidden recesses. Some of my fondest memories were of Dad, heady with the scent of the hunt and emboldened by a couple of tankards of spiked nog, chasing a startled starling around the house, frantically batting at it with a broken pool cue stick. The holiday tradition was what really mattered, and it added a sense of wild adventure to our celebrations that other less adventuresome, retail-enslaved families missed. 

“And the price was right,” Dad would always say, cheerfully.

Obviously, as he got older and we moved to more densely populated urban areas, this became a more challenging activity. After all, the local bank branch or office park looked with prejudicial disfavor at the destruction of their expensive landscaping for the sake of one gritty, Depression-era gentleman’s ideas about Christmas celebration. And honestly, I thought it was a little over the top to call me wanting bail money that first year in the city. Especially during the busy holiday shopping season.

Technology has come to the aid of the modern Christmas tree shopper in the form of the Whack & Heckler 18-volt rechargeable, cordless chainsaw – a tiny titan of the tool world that makes quick work of surreptitious Nöel deforestation, especially in the gathering gloaming of December’s early sunsets. This year, I was especially happy with my choice – a six foot evergreen of some sort or other, discovered down a ravine far from civilization – because it sported what appeared in the bitter cold dusk to be tiny, baby-sized pine cones. I quickly channeled my inner Paul Bunyan, felled it, dragged it up the hill like a prize of war, lashed it to the roof of the car, and drove homeward.

Once I had mounted it in its stand in our living room, my sweetling was less than impressed. “It’s shaped funny,” she noted, “and it isn’t even green.” True, I had to admit that, once in the tungsten glow of our home, it did indeed look more brownish than greenish.

“Yes, but the price was right,” I quoted Dad. Somehow I didn’t think this impressed her.

“One of these days you’re gonna get arrested doing this. Or shot by somebody who catches you and your little George Washington hatchet trespassing on their property.”

“Oh come on,” I offered, “it’s Christmas. Look at the little baby-sized pine cones. I picked it out special. Have some nog.”

She soon warmed to the combination of the season and the pioneer spirit of adventure. Well, she at least warmed up enough that she soon helped me decorate the new tree. We strung the lights and hung our delicate ornaments. Against my own personal artistic judgment, I even let her heave great wads of shiny aluminum tinsel all over it – her own family’s favorite (if somewhat ghastly) decorating tradition. Frankly, I had to admit that the strands of shredded chrome helped to hide the brown looking branches. But we did take extra care to put lights close to the baby-sized pine cones to highlight their natural beauty.

Two nights later I was standing in the garage, on the other side of two closed doors, when I heard a shriek she usually reserves for finding Plymouth-sized spiders in the shower, or raccoons in the refrigerator again. I ran in to find her standing across the living room, pointing in horror at the Christmas tree.

“Your pine cones,” she hissed, with a combination of revulsion and rather pointed blame. “They’re moving!”


Sure enough, upon close examination, the pine cones were convulsing and bulging, with the unquestionable activity of something inside trying to escape. Into our living room. It seems that my baby-sized pine cones were, in fact, a rather active infestation of bagworms. Warmed by our central heating system and the close proximity of Christmas lights, the caterpillars inside of the cone-shaped brown sacks had thawed out and were now seeking to relocate. One had fallen to the floor, and the dachshund had already sailed triumphantly down the hallway with it held aloft like a trophy.

There was only one thing to do. I opened up the sliding glass door to the patio, picked up the tree, and heaved it out into the yard as far as I could in one hurl. A beaten man, I pulled on my coat, went out into the cold, retrieved the stand and the ornaments, and then dragged the fallen symbol of my pioneer spirit to the back of the yard where the caterpillars could refreeze in peace. 

I would later bone up on bagworms, and discover that I would have to pull all of the bags from the tree and burn them, since they were filled with eggs laid by the female worms, and would only go on to infest the evergreens in our yard next year. Since the tree was already chopped down anyway, up the whole thing would eventually go in a blaze to its Tannenbaum Valhalla.

Some traditions fade away, while others die a much quicker death. My holiday tradition took just long enough for a drive to the Hardware Hut to be smothered completely. I now sit puffing my pipe and sipping my nog, looking at a wire and plastic thing masquerading as a tree. It did just take five minutes to set up, with no fuss, and no risk of arrest for criminal trespassing. If I squint a bit and sit across the room, it looks just like the real thing. The evergreen-scented air freshener completes the illusion. And there will be no pine needles to clog up the vacuum, and certainly no bagworms to evict. I can pack it up the day after New Years, and no one will ever know. 

But it’s just not the same.